December 2, 2023

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The Soft Pink Truth: Was It Ever Real? Album Review

Comparing Matmos to Coil seems crass. They’re the two most famous gay male couples to make smart, sensual, experimental electronic music together, and for the most part, that’s where the similarities have ended. But when you’ve made a record as shudderingly sexual as Drew Daniel’s new Soft Pink Truth EP Was It Ever Real?, and you put a cover of “The Anal Staircase” by Coil on it, and you’ve been with one guy for 29 years: That’s when you start to wonder how much Daniel likes playing the John Balance to M.C. Schmidt’s Sleazy.

Was It Ever Real? gives the impression of a brawny, fulfilling eroticism. The title alone of “Is It Going to Get Any Deeper Than This?,” not to mention the seductive moans and sighs that flutter throughout the mix like plumes of smoke, make the record’s preoccupations clear from its opening moments. Coil’s original 1986 “Anal Staircase” is a Stravinsky-sampling bruiser that seems to invite the listener to hitherto unknown pleasures, but Daniel replaces the unsettling laughter on the original with a smattering of lounge ambiance, and Balance’s screams simmer down to a close-mic’d whisper. This is a vision of sex not as something forbidding or forbidden but a healthy component of a comfortable life. The anal staircase is carpeted in velvet.

Daniel commits to a luxe version of deep house on these four tracks, ripe with vestiges of disco. The bass is big and plummy, and electric pianos mumble and splutter. The title track exists to flex this style. Acetone’s Mark Lightcap soars with a guitar lead that brings to mind the ‘70s-sleaze Shaft school of seduction, while a harpsichord performance from Tom Boram elevates the whole thing into the kind of orgiastic paradise-garden fantasy Prince conjured on the late-‘80s deep cut “Adonis & Bathsheba.” The pitch-shifted hi-hats, which seem to squelch through mud, impart a whiff of the peaty fertility of early-2000s albums by Matthew Herbert (whose challenge to Daniel to make house music led to the start of the Soft Pink Truth).

Much of the Soft Pink Truth’s catalog is devoted to provocative electronic tributes to genres like hardcore, black metal, and crust punk. This is his first project-length pastiche that isn’t a complete subversion, and it continues the turn away from “angry-white-guy music” that Daniel commenced on 2020’s beatific Shall We Go On Sinning So That Grace May Increase? Like that record, Was It Ever Real? is a luxe, collab-heavy work that’s easier on the ears than most of his music. Unlike Sinning, this is a straight-faced genre experiment, leaning into club music’s carnal qualities without exaggerating them or sending them up, tunneling toward the center of classic deep house rather than scratching at its margins as Daniel did on his 2003 debut Do You Party?

As such, it’s the Soft Pink Truth release that’ll most comfortably fit into most DJ sets and road trips. (Daniel will elaborate even further on this style in October, when he’ll release a full-length called Is It Going to Get Any Deeper Than This?) In the absence of the project’s usual puckish unpredictability, the appeal of Was It Ever Real? lies largely in hearing Daniel focus all his attention on a single sound while infusing it with a genuine eroticism that’s sexy not because it’s brazen, brash, or foul-mouthed, but because it’s lived.

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The Soft Pink Truth: Was It Ever Real?

The Soft Pink Truth: Was It Ever Real?

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